The history of Las Vegas punk rock is, like in most cities, rife with stories of violence, dangerous drug use, and general delinquency. However, most punks today will probably tell you that the Vegas punk rock community is one of the most accepting, inclusive, and laid-back scenes on the west coast.
Three members of the local band Lambs to Lions, who have been performing at bars since 2012, agreed to sit down to an interview with me to discuss the state of the Vegas scene as a whole. They say that while there is definitely some drama here and there, fights are rare at their shows.
“The shows downtown can get pretty rowdy sometimes, or they can be really boring,” says Ray, the band’s lead singer, and songwriter, “There are only so many venues you can keep coming back to if that kind of stuff happens. You become persona non grata.”
When asked what sets the Vegas scene apart from punk communities in other cities, Greg, the lead guitarist whose smoke-filled garage served as the location for our interview, answered with, “It sucks for under-age kids. The venues that are cool don’t last, and if you’re trying to do something downtown or in the house shows, those kinda get popular for a while, but they don’t last either.”
Aggie, the band’s drummer, and youngest member said, “The scene here is pretty rad. Especially the people that come to the shows. Even certain places we play, like Double Down, get the hardcore punks and the tourists too because it’s pretty well known.”
Ray quickly chimed in with, “It’s the center of the universe as far as this scene goes.” The Double Down Saloon is a venue that has been synonymous with punk rock in Las Vegas since the mid-’90s and is also the top-rated punk bar on Yelp.
Greg added, “Going to bar shows, you won’t see that kind of stuff as much. If you go to an underage show or something like that, then there’s more of that to the scene, but it’s really just kids getting drunk.”
However, Cody Leavitt, a local punk-rock role-model who started helping out upcoming bands several years ago by offering them free recording sessions out of his home studio, had a slightly different opinion.
Leavitt disagrees slightly with Lambs to Lions about where the true heart of the Vegas punk scene lies, saying, “We’ve got such a good thing going on, and like no one knows about it. Our all-ages scene is where it’s at. [The bar shows] are not the real punk scene.” To prove his point, he pulled up a picture on his phone of 500 sweaty kids at a house party from the night before. But Leavitt stressed to me that the Las Vegas scene was much more cooperative and less clique-y than those he had seen in other cities.
Talking as much with his hands as with his voice, Leavitt, now the founder of Asteroid M Records, told me, “It’s definitely not as dangerous now as it was twenty years ago, for sure. You’re still in really poor neighborhoods, but the culture has changed. The cool thing isn’t to be the toughest guy anymore, it’s cool to be a fly dude who dresses good and gets the ladies with smooth music now. We’re almost getting to that disco-type of era again.”
While the drugs and violence haven’t been removed from the scene completely, Cody has definitely seen improvement over the course of his lifetime, adding, “I don’t see a lot of drug problems. We have our issues, but I feel like kids are just so much more aware of what drugs are and what the consequences are. They’re not dumb. They know, okay, that’s heroin, I should stay off of that…It used to be so accepted in punk to do meth and drink tons of beers. You don’t see that as much now, and that’s cool.”
When asked what stands out about Vegas punks, Leavitt replied with, “We have a lot more groove. Groovy stuff you can bob your head to, the Latin influence is really strong. You can see that danceability really coming out in the punk music.” This is a sentiment shared by Ray of Lambs to Lions, who told me that he draws heavy lyrical inspiration from Pablo Neruda, a well-known Chilean poet, and diplomat.
Leavitt did have one last thing to say about Vegas, adding, “It’s like an LA or a New York, in that we’re such an entertainment capital, to be able to cut it out here, you’ve got to be really good. A shitty band out here is like a decent band in somewhere like Iowa. So, I’d say we’ve got two things: the positivity of our scene, and the quality of our bands.”
To Cody, his love of the scene and his desire to help the next generation of punk-rockers is what really motivates him, saying, “You have a whole generation of kids coming into this world at one of the hardest times for kids to come into the world. There aren’t a lot of actual resources to help these kids out and schools don’t teach you a lot of things. The kids I work with are already dealing with these type of issues, plus the gang issues, and the broken home issues, and all that, so it’s really hard for them. What I’m trying to do now is be that big brother. Be that mentor figure with the label and with the music.”
Some say punk is dead. Some say that punk was swallowed up by modern consumerism and pop culture. I used to be one of them, the edgelord that I was. Now that I have lived here, soaked up the scene, and met with some locals, I say that punk faked its own death and has been hiding out in places like the suburbs of Vegas. While its early history may be full of blood, tears, and skinheads, the Las Vegas punk scene today, much as it was during the genre’s infancy, is driven more by a love of the music than by anything else.